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Teaching Careers and Professional Development

How to Become a Higher Education Administrator

By The Editorial Team

Higher education administration can be a fulfilling career path for educators who want to play an active role in influencing the operations of a university, rather than personally teaching. With the ability to customize curricula, structure programs and services, and keep colleges and universities running smoothly, higher education administration serves a critical role in hundreds of institutions around the country.

Higher education refers to any education opportunity past traditional K-12 schooling, ranging from community colleges to universities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, working as a higher education administrator provides a comfortable salary in a burgeoning industry. With projected job growth between 2018 and 2028 of 7%, or 13,500 open positions, there is a lot of potential for professionals who choose this path.

Average Salaries for Higher Education Administrators

As highlighted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, working as a higher education administrator can be a lucrative career path. The average salary for an administrator is around $95,410 per year — almost double the annual median income for a family of four.

While this is the average, there are higher earning roles available for those who are dedicated and driven to postsecondary success. Take, for example, college presidents. A career path that generally follows excellence in other leadership roles, such as serving as a dean, some college presidents make a healthy salary for their important work. Earning potential can vary from school to school and job role to job role, so interested educators should do their research.

Job Growth Potential for Higher Education Administrators

The administration field for those in higher education holds many possibilities. Postsecondary administration isn’t a single career path but rather an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of high-level positions in administrative offices throughout a college. This can range from working in admissions, helping choose the right students for a college, to overseeing the financial aid process, awarding scholarships, and processing student loans. With so many different positions at each school across many different departments, there are countless opportunities for those who excel in the field.

Job growth in the industry overall is also promising — the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects faster than average growth, providing a wealth of employment options for education professionals who choose to pursue this path. With an estimated growth rate of 7% and the addition of around 13,500 jobs over the course of the next decade, this is a good time for interested educators to enter the industry.

In spite of growth within the field, higher education jobs are often very competitive, due to good benefits and high salaries. Competitive candidates often hold advanced degrees in higher education administration and possess strong backgrounds in both education and management.

Degrees for Higher Education Administration Positions

Higher education administration positions generally require substantial higher education. While some positions can be obtained with just a four-year degree in an education or management field, most of these positions require, at minimum, a master’s degree in a related discipline.

Master of Education degrees are one of the most popular choices for higher education administrators. Unlike a Master of Arts in Teaching, which focuses more on classroom skills, an MEd delves deeper into the theory behind education rather than teaching strategy. This kind of degree teaches a broader, higher-level approach that is most appropriate for those overseeing a general educational environment, rather than working hands-on with students on a daily basis.

A Master of Education degree isn’t the only option for those considering a career in higher education administration. Some successful candidates may also hold business-related degrees, such as a Master of Business Administration. Some schools also offer specialized master’s degrees in topics, such as Student Affairs Administration that are specifically intended for work in postsecondary administration.

While less common, some administrators hold doctoral degrees in related fields. This is most common for those interested in educational research. Degrees, such as Doctor of Education and Doctor of Higher Education Administration can prepare professionals for higher education administration careers and increase the competitiveness of candidacy.

Careers Available in Higher Education Administration

Due to the large range of fields covered within higher education administration, there are many different career paths available for qualified professionals to consider. These include:

  • Academic Advising: In a role that helps students plan the course of their collegiate careers, academic advisers work one-on-one with students to determine class schedules that fulfill graduation requirements and explore personal interests. Higher-level positions may oversee the advising process and ensure proper resources are available.
  • Admissions and Enrollment Management: The Office of Admissions oversees collegiate admissions. Professionals working in this space will evaluate applications, interview students, coordinate campus visits, organize campus tours, and process admissions acceptances.
  • Development and Advancement: The fundraising arm of an educational institution, jobs in development involve raising funds for general campus maintenance and specific capital projects.
  • Career Services: Career services professionals support students in the pursuit of internships and jobs, both during school and after graduation. Other services may include resume and cover letter reviews, interview preparation, and maintaining positive relationships with internship and new graduate hiring programs.
  • Financial Aid: The Office of Financial Aid provides support for students in paying for education. In this department, administrators organize scholarships for both new and current students, apply student loans to student accounts, and process tuition and room and board payments.
  • Registrar: The Office of the Registrar manages student records, including transcripts, enrollment history, and any other topics related to activity in a school. In this field, administrators maintain student data, oversee class registration, and handle major declarations.
  • Student Affairs: Many roles in higher education administration involve directly overseeing the activities students are involved in on campus. This can extend from housing to groups and clubs, encompassing all aspects of life on campus. This office is usually led by a dean or provost, with assistant roles overseeing different class years, departments, or activities.
  • Department Chair: Management professionals who often directly supervise the teachers and professors delivering educational content in the classroom. Depending on the skillset and ambition of the instructor, a move up into the role of department chair may be a significant step on the career ladder.

With comfortable salaries, above-average growth rates, and a wide range of fields available in postsecondary management, a career in higher education administration can be very fulfilling.

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